The Hubris of Modern Classical Musicians (or lack there of)

Look at ME, not my music

There is a lot of talk today about the "me" generation. This includes anyone born in between 1970 and 2000. Psychology puts the seeds of the "me" generation somewhere in the 1960's with the coming-of-age Baby Boomers. Academic studies maintain that young people are more narcissistic than their predecessors because of reality television, promoting themselves on YouTube the over emphasis on sports and entertainment stardom. While we have a host of new ways to get "noticed", there isn't any quality control on these new media forms; the most popular wins!

These aspects have permeated all aspects of our society: How we think about social programs, taxes, warfare and the arts. A couple of hundred years ago the socialist revolution began resulting in the socialistic responses of European countries. The US was far enough away to avoid most of the major effects (as is evidenced by the US being the only first world country without some form of socialized medicine).

Communication has drastically changed since then and "trends" in one region are quickly adopted by another region without them needing to be neighboring countries or cultures. Therefore the sentiment of "me first" which may have started in the US can be seen in countries all over the world. China, which does it's level best to keep out "decadent Western views" has an entire generation which feels entitled to the sense of freedom "me first" engenders. A study by the Pew Research Center in 2007 says the top goals for Americans between the ages 18-25 are fame and fortune. A similar study in China 2010 suggests the top goal for Chinese between 10-20 want fame from movies or music.

How does this "me" focus affect the music world? Artists are encouraged to generate publicity about themselves, to create a "persona" which captures the attention of the media and the public. It is this persona which makes videos go viral; it is the persona which drives sales - and the bottom line is the money.

The result is the need for performers to be focus on fame rather than the music. Composers vying for performances need to take the same approach, gaining a name via outlandish behavior rather than their music. Nico Muhly (age 30) has a blog and twitter feed that seldom talks about music at all. John Adams (age 64) has a blog that almost always refers to music in some fashion but always in a personal way.

The problem with this generation gap can best be seen in the attitudes of symphony musicians. How often do you see symphony musicians from major orchestras promoting their concerts? I'm not talking about symphony publicity machines which focuses on leveraging social media, but the musicians actually taking an active role in self promotion.

The members of a rock band understand the concept of self promotion. But symphonies tend to be mixture of younger musicians (in their early 30's) to the older established musicians in their 60's and 70's. Only the young musicians even remotely qualify as being part of the "me" generation. It's possible to see the difference in this generation gap by who of these musicians is active on facebook.

It isn't enough anymore to just be a good musician. You have to self promote. Unfortunately, good promotion doesn't equate with quality. But all the quality in the world won't get noticed without getting it out in the public eye.


Chip Michael said…
Wow, I just posted this and then found an article about Guru's which accentuates the point about the "me" generation. I'm not sure whether it's the author or the Guru's she's met that is so self centric. At the very beginning of the article she says, "Unless you are a mere mortal, your self-esteem is dictated by two things: how many people know who you are, and how much money you get for your time."

'm not saying I LIKE this attitude, but it's certainly prevalent.

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